Thursday, April 28, 2011

So Long to Hell

Thanks to everyone who came out this Spring and helped make Metro Classics Goes to Hell one of our most successful series since we started five years ago.

We're off to Purgatory for a few months, but we'll be returning in August for another 18 weeks of Metro Classics goodness.  Stay tuned here for updates and the occasional random post about movies we probably won't play.  You can also follow us on the facebook.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Top 5 Frank Capra Films:

1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
2. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. Arsenic & Old Lace (1944)
5. Meet John Doe (1941)

Top 5 Jean Arthur Films:

1. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
2. Easy Living (Mitchell Leisen, 1937)
3. The More the Merrier (George Stevens, 1943)
4. Shane (George Stevens, 1953)
5. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, 1936)

Top 5 Thomas Mitchell Films:

1. Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)
2. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
3. It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
4. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
5. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

Top 5 Harry Carey Films:

1. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
2. The Musketeers of Pig Alley (DW Griffith, 1912)
3. Air Force (Howard Hawks, 1943)
4. Duel in the Sun (King Vidor, 1946)
5. Barbary Coast (Howard Hawks, 1935)

Top 5 Films of 1939:

1. The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)
2. Stagecoach (John Ford)
3. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming(
4. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks)
5. Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Links: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Otis Ferguson, one of America's first great film critics, was not a fan of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on its release back in 1939, accusing director Frank Capra in The New Republic of putting ideas before people, and of having crowd-pleasing ideas among them:

"Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is going to be the big movie explosion of the year, and reviewers are going to think twice and think sourly before they’ll want to put it down for the clumsy and irritating thing it is. It is a mixture of tough, factual patter about congressional cloakrooms and pressure groups, and a naïve but shameless hooraw for the American relic—Parson Weems at a flag-raising."

Frank S. Nugent, no slouch of a critic himself (and the screenwriter of Classics The Searchers and The Quiet Man, among other films), disagreed in the New York Times, noting that Capra succeeds not just in walking the line between comedy and drama, but between condemnation and celebration of the American government:

"For Mr. Capra is a believer in democracy as well as a stout-hearted humorist. Although he is subjecting the Capitol's bill-collectors to a deal of quizzing and to a scrutiny which is not always tender, he still regards them with affection and hope as the implements, however imperfect they may be, of our kind of government. Most directors would not have attempted to express that faith otherwise than in terms of drama or melodrama. Capra, like the juggler who performed at the Virgin's shrine, has had to employ the only medium he knows. And his comedy has become, in consequence, not merely a brilliant jest, but a stirring and even inspiring testament to liberty and freedom, to simplicity and honesty and to the innate dignity of just the average man."

Some enterprising individual at the University of Virginia has collected a number of other contemporary reviews of Mr. Smith, highlighting the various contemporary reactions to the film.  Of particular interest, considering the film's rah-rah rep, are these reported in The Christian Science Monitor:

Senator Alban W. Barkely (D-Kentucky):  "He declared he spoke not only for himself but for the entire Senate in his condemnation. The picture, he declared, was a "grotesque distortion" of the way the Senate is run.... "As grotesque as anything I have ever seen! Imagine the Vice President of the United States winking at a pretty girl in the gallery in order to encourage a filibuster! Can you visualize Jack Garner winking up at Hedy Lamarr in order to egg her on?""

Senator James F. Byrnes (D-South Carolina): "outrageous . . . exactly the kind of picture that dictators of totalitarian governments would like to have their subjects believe exists in a democracy...."

And from The Hollywood Reporter in 1942 on Mr. Smith being the last American film to play in France before the Nazi Occupation cut off distribution:

"Similarly cheers and acclamation punctuated the famous speech of the young senator on man's rights and dignity. "It was," writes the Nachrichten's correspondent, "as though the joys, suffering, love and hatred, the hopes and wishes of an entire people who value freedom above everything, found expression for the last time . . ."

Amplifying on this defiance of Nazi oppression, the Army News Service sent me word that one theater in a French village in the Vosges Mountains played Mr. Smith continuously during the last thirty days before the ban."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Coming Attractions: Mr Smith Goes to Washington

Wednesday, 27 April at 6:45 & 9:15 P.M.

Giveaways: Destry Rides Again DVD courtesy of Scarecrow Video, and a gift certificate to Cinema Books, respectively.

The circle is complete.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Night of the Hunter

Top 5 Charles Laughton Films:

1. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935)
2. Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder, 1957)
3. St. Martin's Lane (Tim Whelan, 1938)
4. Advise and Consent (Otto Preminger, 1962)
5. Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)

Top 5 Lillian Gish Films:

1. The Musketeers of Pig Alley (DW Griffith, 1912)
2. True Heart Susie (DW Griffith, 1919)
3. Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948)
4. Broken Blossoms (DW Griffith, 1919)
5. Duel in the Sun (King Vidor, 1946)

Top 5 Directorial Debuts:

1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
2. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)
3. They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948)
4. This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)
5. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

Top 5 Southern Films Noirs:

1. Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948)
2. The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955)
3. They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray, 1949)
4. Blood Simple (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1984)
5. Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981)

Top 5 Films of 1955:

1. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
2. Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich)
3. Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles)
4. Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer)
5. Lola Montes (Max Ophuls)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Links: Night of the Hunter

Bosley Crowther liked Night of the Hunter well enough back in September of 1955, though he had issues with the second half.  Writing in the New York Times, he said:

"All this has been crisply compacted into clear screen drama by the late James Agee and it is put forth under the direction of Mr. Laughton in stark, rigid visual terms. The locale is crushingly rural, the atmosphere of "the sticks" is intense, and Robert Mitchum plays the murderous minister with an icy unctuousness that gives you the chills. There is more than malevolence and menace in his character. There is a strong trace of Freudian aberration, fanaticism and iniquity. . . .

"But unfortunately the story and the thesis presented by Mr. Grubb had to be carried through by Mr. Laughton to a finish—and it is here that he goes wrong. For the evolution of the melodrama, after the threatened, frightened children flee home, angles off into that allegorical contrast of the forces of Evil and Good. Strange, misty scenes composed of shadows and unrealistic silhouettes suggest the transition to abstraction."

But Dave Kehr in the Chicago Reader finds that abstraction to be one of the film's great strengths:

"Laughton's direction has Germanic overtones—not only in the expressionism that occasionally grips the image, but also in a pervasive, brooding romanticism that suggests the Erl-King of Goethe and Schubert. But ultimately the source of its style and power is mysterious—it is a film without precedents, and without any real equals."

Michael Atkinson takes Kehr's side, writing in the Village Voice that:

"Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter is the movie freak's definitive love machine: maligned when first released in 1955, hopelessly out of synch with American postwar sensibilities, so aberrant and singular it may properly be called the first Hollywood cult movie. An arch, Kabuki-like morality play set in a Saturday Evening Post mid-country and populated by shrieking archetypes, the film was, famously, Laughton's only directorial effort, and the mind boggles to ponder what kind of auteur career the man might've had come the '60s. As it is, Hunter is a paroxysm of stylistic excess, so untempered by reality or taste that even its stiff-limbed child performances feel like bad dreams."

Finally, just a month ago, Night of the Hunter was current Times critic A. O. Scott's Critics' Pick of the week:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coming Attractions: Night of the Hunter

Wednesday, 20 April at 7:00 & 9:10 P.M.

Giveaways: Dead Man DVD courtesy of Scarecrow Video, and a gift certificate to Cinema Books, respectively.

Fight the power.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hell is Other Movies: Seven Samurai for Seven Samurai

Tatsuya Nakadai and Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo

The samurai as Western hero in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo.  A loose adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled novel Red Harvest, it was remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars.  Kurosawa's sequel Sanjuro is a comic take on a short story by Shūgorō Yamamoto that was also adapted as a more serious dramatic film starring Tatsuya Nakadai called Kill! that was directed by Kihachi Okamoto.

The Loyal 47 Ronin
The samurai as historical tragedy in Kenji Mizoguchi's epic 1941 version of one of the most famous, and most filmed, episodes in Japanese history, in which the titular ronin avenge their wronged master and commit honorable suicide.  Kurosawa's Kagemusha also uses history as a means to examine the samurai world, in this case the fall of the warlord Shingen Takeda during the civil war that ultimately established the Tokugawa Dyanasty in 1575.

Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood
The samurai as Shakespearean tragedy in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Ran.  Adapting Macbeth and King Lear, respectively into Japanese settings and utilizing the conventions of traditional Noh theatre, Kurosawa loses the language but gets to the heart of the brutal violence and treachery in Shakespeare.

Tatsuya Nakadai in The Sword of Doom
The samurai as homicidal maniac in Kihachi Okamoto's pitch-black The Sword of Doom.  Tatsuya Nakadai plays the most bad ass samurai around, who kills indiscriminately and can only be stopped by a freeze-frame (the film is the first in a trilogy, but the remaining movies were never made).  One of the most vicious and evil protagonists in film history in an immensely enjoyable movie.

Tomisaburo Wakayama in Shogun Assassin
The samurai as grindhouse classic in Shogun Assassin.  Director Robert Houston melded together parts of the first two films in the Lone Wolf and Cub series (directed by Kenji Misumi) and dubbed them into English for release in the US.  You probably know it best from the many samples used in GZA's seminal album Liquid Swords.

Nobuko Otowa in Onibaba
The samurai as victim of the people in Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba.  During a great war, an old woman and her daughter-in-law hunt down wounded samurai and murder them, stealing and selling their weapons and armor for food (this is also a plot point in Seven Samurai).  They are eventually repaid with a terrible curse, one that involves one of the scarier masks in film history.

The samurai as social commentary in Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri, in which Tatsuya Nakadai (in one of the great performances in film history) seeks revenge on the samurai clan, and the feudal system in general, that lead to his son-in-law being forced to disembowel himself with a bamboo sword.  Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion, starring Toshiro Mifune along with Nakadai, is also a frontal assault on the samurai system, with Mifune rebelling against the irrational demands of his lord.  Japanese directors often used period settings to disguise their critiques of contemporary, and especially wartime, Japanese society.  Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons is one such film, following the struggles for life in a slum both for masterless samurai who can barely survive and the common people, who weren't much better off.  Made in 1937, Yamanaka was drafted the same day the film premiered and he died in Manchuria at the age of 28.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Seven Samurai

Top 5 Greatest Films of All-Time:

1. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)
2. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
3. Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951)
4. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (FW Murnau, 1927)

Top 5 Akira Kurosawa Films:

1. Ran (1985)
2. Rashomon (1950)
3. Ikiru (1952)
4. Throne of Blood (1957)
5. Yojimbo (1961)

Top 5 Toshiro Mifune Films Not Directed By Akira Kurosawa:

1. Hell in the Pacific (John Boorman, 1968)
2. Sword of Doom (Kihachi Okamoto, 1966)
3. Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi, 1967)
4. The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952)
5. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1954)

Top 5 Japanese Films of All-Time:

1. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
2. Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)
3. Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949)
4. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
5. Japanese Girls at the Harbor (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933)

Top 5 Films of 1954:

1. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Voyage in Italy (Roberto Rossellini)
3. Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi)
4. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray)
5. On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Links: Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai, as it should considering it is The Greatest Film of All-Time, has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  The praise started way back in 1956, when the film was known in the US as The Magnificent Seven and the Time reviewer acclaimed it (in a review second-billed to Marlon Brando and Machiko Kyo in Teahouse of the August Moon) with casual racism and more than a few transcription errors noting that

"Arms and the men have seldom been more stirringly sung than in this tale of bold emprise in old Nippon. In his latest film, Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon) has plucked the epic string. And though at times, in the usual Japanese fashion, some dismal flats and rather hysterical sharps can be heard, the lay of this Oriental minstrel has a martial thrum and fervor that should be readily understood even in those parts of the world that do not speak the story's language. Violence, as Kurosawa eloquently speaks it, is a universal language."

Bosley Crowther agreed in the Times, noting a particular film comparison that manages to be, as only Crowther could manage, understandable and completely, totally wrong.

"To give you a quick, capsule notion of the nature of this unusual film, let us say it bears cultural comparison with our own popular western "High Noon." That is to say, it is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action, film, wherein the qualities of human strength and weakness are discovered in a crisis taut with peril. And although the occurrence of this crisis is set in the sixteenth century in a village in Japan, it could be transposed without surrendering a basic element to the nineteenth century and a town on our own frontier."

Closer to our own time, Dave Kehr, in his capsule for the Chicago Reader, notes the film's much more complicated relationship to the Hollywood Western:

"Akira Kurosawa's best film is also his most Americanized, drawing on classical Hollywood conventions of genre (the western), characterization (ritual gestures used to distinguish the individuals within a group), and visual style (the horizon lines and exaggerated perspectives of John Ford). Of course, this 1954 film also returned something of what it borrowed, by laying the groundwork for the “professional” western (Rio Bravo, etc) that dominated the genre in the 50s and 60s."

Moving away from daily reviewers, Patrick Crogan at Senses of Cinema writes about the film, and notes that its pretty much impossible to do justice to its many virtues in a short space:

"Space is too short to do justice to all the complexities of the film's story, or to the amazing performances of Shimura, Mifune and many of the other cast members who were part of Kurosawa's troupe of trusted actors in the 1950s and 1960s (including Minoru Chiaki who plays the samurai Heihachi and Bokuzen Hidari whose face radiates the affects of peasant fear and powerlessness as Yohei). Furthermore, the film's stunning formal and stylistic features-the influential slow motion death scenes, the reinvigoration of silent cinema narrational techniques, the dynamic spatial compositions-have hardly been mentioned. If anything can be said about these here, it should be insisted that Kurosawa's formal experimentation and choices as director and editor are an integral part of the film's exploration of these themes of social conflict and group versus individual ethics. At the same time they maximise the film's brilliant portrayal of action and dramatic events in order to make the film as enjoyable and moving as possible."

Check out the video version of Crogan's essay as well:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Coming Attractions: Seven Samurai

Wednesday, 13 April at 7:15 P.M.

Giveaways: A Bug's Life DVD courtesy of Scarecrow Video, and a gift certificate for Cinema Books.

More holes than Yohei's underpants.